Archive for May, 2010

Doing Press Checks

The press check process intimidates some people — but there is no need to be, especially if you come prepared and have a game plan in mind. As soon as the standard ink density is achieved, the pressman will pull a sheet for you to look at, approve and probably sign off on. Take your time, pay attention, and have a checklist to go by.   Here are a few tips:

1. Bring a second person and put them on task for proofreading.

2. The press sheet cannot normally exactly match either the original copy or original proof.

3. Bring the original copy, the ink and paper swatches and the final ok’d proofs.

4. Compare any PMS colors to the PMS book.

5. Obtain an overall impression: slowly scan the entire press sheet.

6. Does the sheet being used match the specified sheet/paper?

7. Is all copy on the sheet? Any missing elements? Copy changes made?

8. Check all registration and trapping.

9. Study the pictures, type, and screens to make sure they are consistent from page to page.

10. Look for flaws and imperfection: broken type, pinholes, mottling, hickeys or ghosting.

11. Fold the sheet for correct backups, and crossovers. Make a folded dummy, check for alignment.

12. Weigh the piece if it is to be mailed.

13. Number the press sheets as you receive them.

14. Verify the paper stock is what you requested in weight and color.

15. Confirm that color breaks are correct.

16. Examine sheets for hickeys and blemishes.

17. Remember to check color match consistency on elements that cross over from page to page.

18. Fold or cut the press sheet across the image and compare it with the other crossover page.

19. Verify that bleeds extend beyond the trim marks.

Take your time for accuracy, but be respectful of other peoples’ time as well.

Our business is notorious for predatory pricing, printers always “beating each other up” on prices. This has contributed to the decline in print in all major metropolitan areas, since it’s too costly to operate in them at such low price points. But, low margins resulting from “price punching” eventually become unsustainable. In addition, privately owned firms have different motivations than public companies. In many cases, a private firm simply wants to employ relatives, have company cars and make “some profit”. But profit to them simply means paying more taxes. A public firm has to “hit higher numbers” or share prices drop, management options become valueless, the investment community lowers the stock rating, stakeholders get damaged. So, a public firm may have to achieve 10-15% Operating Cash Flow vs. a private company that is happy to squeak by with 3-5%. These are very different business models, with a different motivation by ownership. One of the problems we have in print is that the industry is comprised of all of these businesses with varying motivations and reasons for existence.

Sometimes, there are other reasons that prices are lower. Recently West Shores’  Printing President was convicted of illegally dumping hazardous waste into the Juniata river here in Pennsylvania.  He pleaded no contest to charges of dumping industrial waste, unlawful conduct and pollution of a waterway, The Patriot-News reported. A witness observed the dumping, wrote down the license plate number, and police discovered it belonged to a van owned by West Shore Printing. Tests identified the foam as a toxic chemical used in commercial printing.

So, if  your competitor is saving money (which provides lower prices) by illegal dumping or only being concerned about employing relatives, take solace in the fact that neither strategies work in the long run. Print is a very capital intensive business, and eventually you have to spend millions re-investing in those assets. With banks tightening credit lines and small business loans, good luck trying to secure a $2 Million loan for that new press when you are breaking even or only making a few percent in cash flow per year.

Given the number of projects that are now proofed online (“soft proofed”), there is an additional risk that some error  will be missed by the client, designer, agency or printer. Regardless of whether paper proofs are created or online proofs are reviewed, there are some basic guidelines that should always be followed. These include:

1. Verifying the trim size.
2. Checking for correct pagination in a magazine / publication.
3. Checking that bleeds, borders are positioned and will be produced as designed.
4. Questioning whether shingling, or creep has been allowed for, if the spine is over 1/8″.
5. Approving an ink drawdown of any PMS colors, on the stock it will be printed on.
6. Approving/verifying the process color reproduction fidelity of any images or graphics.
7. Checking folding sequence, when the product (tri-folds, accordian, etc) dictates folding only, without any other spine binding method.
8. Checking to insure that any previously requested corrections were made on the current proof.
9. Lastly, verify the quantity and paper stock specs prior to signing off for press.

If every client followed these simple steps, errors would be drastically reduced.

As mentioned in the last article, most certification programs focus on the adherence to a codified standard, without really benefiting the printing industry or the clients we serve. This may be about to change. The newest standard, SGP is a combination of continuous improvement programs and socially responsible printing. According to the SGP’s web site:

“The mission of the Sustainable Green Printing Partnership is to encourage and promote participation in the worldwide movement to reduce environmental impact and increase social responsibility of the print and graphic communications industry through sustainable green printing practices…

The SGP Partnership recognizes the following sustainable business practices as guiding principles to ensure continued viability and growth:

  • Employ, wherever and whenever possible, materials derived from renewable resources or with low environmental impact, maximizing recycling and recovery efforts with efficient utilization of renewable energy.
  • Encourage the adoption of changes within the supply chain by strongly recommending the use of raw materials that do not threaten or harm future generations.
  • Educate the customer and ultimate consumer regarding the benefits of a restorative economy.

Printers can be listed as a certified SGP Printer by meeting a set of criteria to establish performance standards.”

So, on a practical basis, if I develop an internal program to use less proofing paper and replace them with soft proofs displayed on a color calibrated monitor at the press, I have a qualified SGP project. The net result is that I save money by using less materials, and the environmental impact of our operations is lessened as well. That’s a definite win-win ! Now’s there’s a certification I can embrace, that can have a real impact on operations of printers everywhere.

If you step back in time and look at the evolution of the industry in the last 30 years, it’s somewhat revealing. It demonstrates an industry rocked by technology changes, realigned by mergers and acquisitions, and shaken by various new forms of media and content distribution.

But there is still one theme that all surviving companies seem to have in common: they listen to their customers and provide value beyond a commodity price. These same customers have experienced, with us, what I call the “craze of the day”. Sometimes they are even a part of the “craze creation”. Whether it is a designer wanting 3 varnishes and 2 coatings on a cover, or a paper buyer wanting recycled paper with those
“tiny specks” or a certain certification that they feel will guarantee a certain quality level, clients have helped to form the latest trends in the industry. However, what did all of this do for the health of the industry? What did this do for lessening the environmental impact of print?
Did the quality level in the industry really improve because of ISO 9000 programs? I would argue that none of these programs accomplished very much by themselves.

For the most part, ninety percent of Customers never cared about ISO 9000 certification. If you matched the proofs on press and shipped them a good product that matched their needs, they could care less about SOP’s, Corrective Action Requests or any of the elements of ISO standard. FSC certification will probably become generic: everyone will have it, most papers will be it, and clients will care less. It will become an assumption of the way business is done in a new “green world”. Recycled papers were a fad somewhat, that has died down dramatically, because clients did not want to pay more for their project or a printer educated them in the use of chemicals required to create recycled stocks.

However, there is a new certification/standard that is on the rise that may actually be beneficial to the printer, the customer and the world at large. It is called Sustainable Green Printing Partnership (SGP). How is it beneficial? Well,  in my opinion any new technology, certification or initiative a business undertakes should accomplish one of these (otherwise it is not worth doing):

  1. Lower material costs – use less waste and /or  lower priced materials without affecting quality.
  2. Lower labor costs – more efficient employees, faster equipment
  3. Less environmental impact at the same net cost – the Social Responsibility of every business
  4. Provide for a safer work environment
  5. Enhance quality at the same net cost (“Quality is Free” concept)

The newest certification, SGP can actually pay for itself if implemented properly, unlike any other certification that I have seen.

More to come tomorrow…

Trade Printing: The Big Myth

In the last 4 or 5 years, I have seen more and more niche marketing by printers claiming to be “trade printers”. About a month ago, I had a conversation with a potential client who wanted “pricing for the trade”. I asked him what exactly that meant. He replied “You know, pricing that printers give each other when they are farming out work.” It implied that printers have some secret allegiance to each other, and that a price we would give each other is lower than the marketplace would otherwise receive.

If you know the market very well, there are some basic flaws in this observation. First of all, what is “price”? Price is what the market is willing to pay for the product you have. In print, the market dictates the price. As a printer, I have to determine how to produce products at prices people are willing to pay me. By managing my internal costs, I can manipulate price. Sometimes you have the price point, which is a reflection of your business model, and sometimes you don’t have the price point. No big deal…move on and keep quoting.

Printers that “print for the trade” are just trying to carve a niche by using a false differentiation ploy. By marketing themselves as such, people believe they are getting a better price, whether they are or not. You see, prices fluctuate. Ask me today for a price and then get the same quote in 3 months. They’ll probably be different. Why? Price is a reflection of internal equipment utilization, raw materials fluctuation, changes in medical costs, labor increases, cyclical buying habits, as well as equipment and technology changes. These are only a few of the factors determining price.

Trade printers have to do the same thing, ie adjust to changing dynamics in internal and external costs. If they do that and I do that, well – how are we different?

The answer : We’re not.

There is no doubt that the pace of life and the workplace has increased exponentially in the last few decades. I recall attending a Dupont presentation at Graph Expo about 15-20 years ago. The name of the show was something like “The Changes in Graphic Arts”. It started out with a slideshow that was showing the technology changes in the course of human history. They spanned the ages from a  caveman with a burnt stick to the space shuttle program. The most interesting aspect was not the slides themselves. Dupont was pausing between slides, and the length of the pause was determined by how quickly the next change (and appropriate slide) occurred. Starting out, there were pauses of 6-8 seconds between slides. By the time they had advanced to WWII, you could not keep up with absorbing all you saw, and by the end you saw nothing but blurs.
Certainly, this rapid pace of change has not slowed down, but even increased even more. But, change comes with a cost. The cost of our time and attention span. I have noticed a shift in business correspondence in the last 5 or 6 years. People simply have a difficult time reading and comprehending to more than “one single bullet point at a time”. Try this: send an email with 5 issues/questions that you need a coherent reply to. I daresay you MIGHT get an answer to two of them. This happens to me all the time. As a result it takes 2 or 3 emails to accomplish the job of one. So, with all these great technological changes, are we “dumbing down” our culture in the basic means of communication? Yeah, we probably are, and there is no stopping the freight train now…

Low Cost Producers Will Survive

I believe  in the future of print, regardless of what anyone else hypothesizes. The product and the industry will continue to evolve, but print will survive. However, in order to be among those printers “still standing at the end of the party” requires management that has a primary goal of being a low cost producer. Recently, another printer in California, Graphic Press closed and auctioned off its’ equipment. At one time, they were part of a premier group of printers in the country, along with Anderson, George Rice, Lithographix (all in L.A) , Acme Printing in Boston, and Sandy Alexander. Among these printers, they cornered the market in the automotive business (car books) and Annual Reports. These printers changed the quality level in the industry, pushed the process to its limits. They did some radical and innovative things, like UV coating inline on a web, before anyone else in the world did that. Slowly, most of these printers closed down. Why? They could not produce products at a price that was competitive with the rest of the country.

In the meantime, Monarch Litho, also based in LA (Montebello) has expanded and grown. They also happen to be the largest minority-owned sheetfed printer in the U.S. They are a low cost producer.

Being a “high Quality” printer is less advantageous than in prior years. With Closed loop inking, G7 calibration, and other tools, what was once considered “high quality” is achievable by many more printers. Quality is a given these days. When the high quality firms lost their competitive edge as the rest of the industry enhanced quality, and clients were happy with the results from many more printers, the clients turned to price differentiation. And the rest is history…

Bookkeeper Cops Plea in Embezzlement Scam

BRATTLEBORO, VT—The former bookkeeper of Vermont Graphics has pleaded guilty to forgery and tax evasion in an embezzlement scam that cost the printer hundreds of thousands of dollars, The Keene Sentinel reported. Julie Garrow faces up to 10 years in prison for the forgery conviction and a maximum of three years for tax evasion, the paper said.

As part of the deal struck with prosecutors, Garrow has agreed to pay more than $600,000 in restitution to Vermont Graphics and more than $80,000 to the IRS in unpaid taxes on the money she was accused of stealing. Prosecutors are seeking a prison term of two to two and a half years for Garrow, who will be sentenced Sept. 13.

Vermont Graphics owner Albert Gehly told the newspaper he was upset with the decision to drop the charge of bank fraud, which would have carried a maximum sentence of 30 years. Gehly also doubts he will get back all of his money.

Garrow was hired as a part-time bookkeeper back in 1994 and began stealing from Vermont Graphics about a month later, the Sentinel said, citing the indictment. She would forge company checks to make it seem as if other employees were paying her. It was a scheme that went undetected for 14 years.